Although it wasn't immediately apparent, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie found Alanis Morissette floundering in her success, albeit ever so slightly. Like most arty collegiate types, she reacted to massive success with an instinct to experiment, and since she had sold so many records, she and producer/collaborator Glen Ballard were given free ...
Although it wasn't immediately apparent, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie found Alanis Morissette floundering in her success, albeit ever so slightly. Like most arty collegiate types, she reacted to massive success with an instinct to experiment, and since she had sold so many records, she and producer/collaborator Glen Ballard were given free range to do pretty much whatever they wanted, resulting in a muted, fitfully intriguing album that had the feel of a sophomore slump even if it was her fourth record (but who counts those first two records as part of her discography, anyway?). It was pretty good, it sold pretty well, but nobody liked it all that much, so it was time for a cool change on her next record, Under Rug Swept (funny how the three years separating Jagged Little Pill and Supposed seemed longer than the three between Supposed and this). The biggest move Alanis made was ditching Ballard, which has the unexpected result of bringing back the sound of Jagged Little Pill, a lush, dense layering of loops, guitars, keyboards, and vocals that makes her songs seem catchier than they are. But that's not all -- she's returned to the impassioned, awkwardly written, syllable-heavy confessional verse that marked Jagged Little Pill. Not only that, she's returned to the very relationship that inspired her breakthrough hit "You Oughta Know," most clearly on the album's lead single, "Hands Clean," this time written from the perspective of the older man who laid prey to the young Canadian star. This would all seem calculated, an attempt to regain her chart status, if Morissette wasn't so unabashedly earnest, seemingly unembarrassed by her confessions. And perhaps she shouldn't be, since her lyrics are so elaborately overwritten it's hard to discern what's going on in her songs. Repeated listens may reveal that her tortured verse derives from something very personal indeed (perhaps it's something so personal, she chooses to hide it by ignoring the rules of syntax and logic, but given her interviews, her unwieldy words are likely just a personal artistic statement), but it's never clear what the songs are about , unless she makes it clear in the title ("21 Things I Want in a Lover," "Narcissus," to name but two). It was easier to call this trait charming on the diary confessions of Jagged, but by this point, the elaborate phrasing and rush of consonants is becoming a bit of a distraction, but the saving grace of Under Rug Swept is that it sounds good. The music flows, the production doesn't overplay its hand, it's pleasingly melodic, tempering the extremities of Jagged Little Pill while retaining the character, and as such, it's easy to groove on the sound without listening to the words. A downside is that the songs, apart from the first three, don't stand out as individual songs, but they do cohere as a whole better than Supposed, and that's no small accomplishment. Alanis is still held back by her own idiosyncrasies -- her determination to be different, to write every word she could possibly ever want to say in as difficult a way as possible -- but that's also her defining characteristic. It's better heard on Jagged, but if you want more of that, take this: it's what Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie should have been. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi